The Boston Celtics were faced with their second overtime game of the series against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals. The team had been badly outplayed in the first three games, yet trailed just 2-1 in the series. Another come-from-behind win would get them even and reclaim homecourt advantage. Larry Bird took charge when it counted most.
Bird drilled a jumper in the lane with 16 seconds left in the extra session, propelling his Celtics to a 129-125 victory to get the series even. When he saw Lakers guard Magic Johnson defending him on that game-winning jumper, Bird knew victory was his.
Larry Bird fired up the Boston Celtics after getting blown out in Game 3
Like the rest of the Celtics, Bird was not happy with Boston’s performance in Game 3 of the 1984 NBA Finals. He called out his teammates, referring to them as “sissies” for their soft play against the Lakers. The team responded.
“I remember Larry saying something to the media about how soft the team is,” Celtics guard Danny Ainge said during the Locked On Celtics podcast in 2020. “But every single person that was watching that film was completely embarrassed and humiliated by our effort in Game 3 in Los Angeles.”
The Celtics went away from their game plan during the second half of Game 4. They became the aggressor, highlighted by Kevin McHale’s infamous clotheslining of Kurt Rambis. The Celtics also messed with the psyche of the Lakers, turning up their mental game.
They knew something had to be done, but they also knew how lucky they were not to be down 3-0 in the series.
“We get blown out in Game 1, we are so lucky to win Game 2,” Ainge recalled. “We’re probably in the one percentile of winning that game. Then in Game 3 we get crushed again and it’s just a dunk fest.”
Larry Bird saw Magic Johnson guarding him late in Game 4 and knew the game was over
Throughout the series, Bird had been frustrated by the tenacious defense of Michael Cooper. Bird later admitted Cooper was one of the toughest defenders he’d faced. He brought up Cooper even when he wasn’t playing against him.
During the 1986 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets, Bird said there was nobody on that team who could stop him.
“Michael Cooper’s not in this series, and he’s the only one who can really shut me down,” Bird said, according to Sports Illustrated.
That’s why Bird’s eyes lit up when he found Magic Johnson guarding him with 16 seconds left in overtime during the crucial Game 4 in LA.
“Michael Cooper fell down in the lane,” Bird said, according to United Press International. “Then it got a little helter-skelter. But as soon as I got Magic (Johnson) in the post, I knew I could shoot over him.”
Bird’s basket led to the Celtics’ four-point win, reclaiming homecourt advantage for Boston.
Bird and the Celtics went on to win the series in seven games
Bird’s jumper propelled the Celtics to victory and had them even again with the Lakers heading into Game 5 back in Boston. He then made sure his team secured that homecourt edge.
Larry Legend dominated Game 5 at the Boston Garden with game-highs in points (34) and rebounds (17). Boston broke open a 55-53 halftime lead by outscoring the Lakers by nine in the third quarter en route to a convincing 121-103 victory.
The Lakers regrouped and bounced back with a 119-108 Game 6 win. Bird, however, was again too much with a double-double in a 111-102 victory in Game 7. He finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds and was named the MVP of the Finals.
The Lakers knew they let the series get away from them. It stuck with them throughout the offseason, but they ultimately used it as motivation. They defeated the Celtics in a rematch in the 1985 NBA Finals.
“You can’t look at 1985 without looking at 1984,” Magic Johnson said to Sports Illustrated in 2015. “We all thought we should’ve won. It was the ultimate motivator.”